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Senate Bill 2080 Takes Process For Approval
of Water Resource Permit Applications Out of the Public Eye
Senate Bill 2080 became law July 1, 2009, after being signed by Governor Crist the previous day. Conservation groups are urging Crist to veto the law, which directs the governing boards of the water management districts to delegate their authority in approving permits to their executive directors and eliminates public participation. The executive directors may then designate other district staff to approve permits as designees, subjecting them to political pressure from developers.
"We hope the Legislature reverses this travesty at the earliest opportunity stated Charles Lee, Audubon's Director of Advocacy. "The people have now been shut out of the room where the most important decisions about water will be made," he concluded.
Audubon is calling for the Legislature to repeal the offending section of law in order to preserve the public's access to hearings on major water permits.
The Sierra Club of Florida sent the following letter to the Governor:
Dear Governor Crist:
Sierra Club Florida urges you to veto SB 2080, "relating to water resources." The bill purports to be about Florida friendly landscaping and was initially supported by many organizations until the last week of the legislative session when a damaging amendment was added. At this time, the legislation would eliminate the public from permitting decisions. It would delegate the power of permitting authority for water use and impacts to water resources to district executive directors and their staff.
Specifically, the bill would:
- Remove authority of the appointed Governing Board and vests authority for permitting water use and resource permits to the district's executive directors. By amending s. 373.079, F.S. lines 138-146, executive directors would gain a great power which has until now resided in the members of the Governing Board. These board members are appointed to represent various segments of the public and various communities within the boundaries of the districts. In essence they represent the people of that district. Executive directors of the districts are staff and serve many boards for many years. Their responsibility is to the administration of the agency.
- Remove the authority of the Governing Board to conduct a public hearing before issuing a permit affecting water use or resources. Decisions on permits are some of the most influential decisions made in the state today. These decisions involve financial gain and long term effects on natural resources. The public has always exercised the opportunity to express their concerns to the Governing Boards and to watch and listen while a decision is made before them. When decisions are made by staff they are made away from the public eye. These types of decision promote the actuality or appearance of backdoor deals and abuse of power. This is not the government in the sunshine that Floridians expect.
- Allows delegation of permitting decisions to lower level staff. Staff, not appointed by the Governor or approved by the legislature, would be given the authority to issue permits. These permits affect water planning for local governments, affect drainage, and result in long term alteration of Florida's natural water resources, as well as affect water dependent wildlife resources. Shouldn't local governments as well as our citizens have some means of voicing their objections to permits they believe endanger one of their most important resources?
The point of creating a water planning and managing agency headed by a governing board instead of a single agency head was not to simply approve contracts or rubberstamp plans but to provide a point of public input for the citizens of Florida on their most basic need - water for homes, business, fish and wildlife habitat. We urge you to veto SB 2080 in the interest of providing open decision making and protection of public interests.
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